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Is This Nessie’s Cousin?

Greenland Shark, Somniosus microcephalus, Lancaster Sound, Nunavut, Canada, Arctic Ocean (de)

Mystery solved? Maybe. A scientist in Alaska suspects that the “monster” who inhabits Alaska’s Lake Iliamna may be a sleeper shark – one of the largest kinds of shark.

If Illie, as she’s known, is indeed a sleeper, the same may be true for Nessie – and perhaps other lake monsters, too.

Bruce Wright, senior scientist at the Aleutian Pribilof Island Association, is planning an expedition to  Lake Iliamna later this summer. And while the main purpose of the expedition is to study the ecology of the lake and how it may be being affected by the warming  global climate, he has a side interest: figuring out what may be behind the continued sightings of Illie.

Sleeper sharks are a strong candidate. Just for starters, their size is in the monster category. They can be 20 feet long and weight more than four tons. And while their main abode is the ocean, they’re known to swim up rivers and into lakes looking for food. Wright says there’s a lot we don’t yet know about them: like how long can they cope with freshwater – maybe even all winter?

Depending on what he and his team learn at Lake Iliamna this year, Wright may spend the summer of next year at Loch Ness.

But while Illie may be prepared to give up her secret to a curious scientists, Nessie has too much of a reputation at stake to let anyone uncover one of the world’s favorite mysteries.

Bruce Wainwright writes about Illie and his expedition at the Alaska Dispatch.